Snowmobiles banned in Yellowstone National Park!

On Sept 15, 2008,the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia rejected Yellowstone’s latest winter use plan, in effect banning all snowmobiles & snowcoaches from Yellowstone National Park. Their stated reason was that the plan failed to protect wildlife against excessive noise and air pollution caused by snowmobiles. This argument seems a bit disingenuous considering the amount of autos, motorcycles and RV’s that jam the park’s roads all summer.

While unguided, unregulated snowmobiling in the park has created some bad consequences–speeding; going off the trails into delicate areas; excessive pollution; and causing animals to stampede–these areas have been addressed with the plan the Park Service has been operating under since 2003.

Under the winter use plan approved by the park service, up to 540 snowmobiles would have been allowed in the park per day. The snowmobiles would have to have a permitted guide with them in groups no larger than 10. The snowmobiles would have to stay on the roads and strictly obey the speed limit at all times. Each snowmoblie allowed in the park would have to be using the “best available technology” (BAT) for pollution control and sound dampening. In addition, the plan would have allowed for up to 83 Snowcoaches a day.

I think it’s a shame that fewer people will be able to enjoy the view of Old Faithful erupting in the winter, or to be able to take a walk around Black Sand Basin while snow falls around you. Yellowstone is completely different in the winter, and as one of our national treasures, the government should work to improve access, not curtail it.

I’ve been living under a rock. I was about to come in here and rant on snowmobiles.

But, I just looked at Yamaha’s web site and I notice that their snowmobiles are all 4 stroke motors now. So, I can’t rant about the pollution.

I’m going to guess they are not as noisy as they used to be as well.

Yep, no 2-stroke engines are allowed in Yellowstone Park. Of course their less powerful–but that isn’t what it’s about inside the park.

Hopefully this will resolve itself into some sort of compromise. Watching a group of Bison trudge their way through deep snow is something else.

This issue is really hitting hard around here. There are some towns just outside the borders of the park (West Yellowstone and Gardner in Montana; I’m not sure about the Wyoming and Idaho ones) for whom tourism is the major, and for practical purposes only, industry. Completely shutting down access to the park for a third of the year means no revenue for those towns for that time, which as you can imagine is hard for them to deal with.

Yeah, I never saw how the gateway towns were during the unregulated days, but I’ve been told by old-timers that their economies took a huge dive after the regulations kicked in. Now with the complete banning of over-the-snow travel, I fear that we’ll see a lot of good, family-owned businesses go under…

I agree. They should have more of the Snowcoaches as well as unlimited access for winter hikers, snowshoers, etc.

But I don’t see the rationale for allowing individual snowmobiles in a wildlife/wilderness area. High-emissions, high-speed, noisy forms of motorized transport are IMO not suitable in places that are designed to preserve a wilderness environment. We have to allow for some human impact in order to let human visitors enjoy these areas, and that should include some motorized transport so that less physically robust or energetic visitors can access them as well.

But snowmobiles, like dirt bikes and other high-speed noisy vehicles, are basically vehicles for joy-riding, not for appreciating nature. I’m all in favor of having more trails for snowmobile and dirt bike use, but they shouldn’t be in places where noise or exhaust or high speeds will interfere with wildlife or with the enjoyment of other people who want to experience a wilderness setting.

I’ve often thought we should have more motorized-vehicle trails on the land strips adjoining highways, where there’s already plenty of noise, high speeds, and pollution. But if you want to enjoy a natural area out in the wilderness, you should be prepared to use lower-impact modes of transportation.

There is no way anyone could measure a change in air quality created by 83 snowmobiles in a park that is 2.2 million acres in size. The methane from moose farts would be a far greater hazard to air quality.

That’s not how the snowmobiles are used in the park. They are done in-trail at slow speed with escort. Your perception doesn’t match the reality of the program the park system proposed. And when you consider the lower number of visitors in winter this is nothing but a tree-hugger attempt to exclude all those who don’t live up by their standards. A 2.2 MILLION ACRE park is not going to be damaged in any way by 83 snow mobiles per day.

Yes, I know: I read the OP. My point is that snowmobiles are high-polluting, noisy, high-speed individual vehicles which are designed for joy-riding: they’re noisy and high-polluting precisely because that is what will allow their users to travel fast with little or no physical effort. So they aren’t a sensible choice to use as vehicles for slow travel through a wilderness area.

Likewise, it wouldn’t make sense to use jetskis instead of canoes and ferryboats to travel down a river in a wildlife park, even if the jetskis were required to travel slowly in groups. If you’re requiring slow speeds, then lose the high-speed, polluting, noisy individual vehicle in favor of ones that are better suited to slow travel and wilderness.

I think you’re mixing up the numbers for snowmobiles with Snowcoaches, the treaded vehicles that take multiple passengers. The proposed plan would have allowed for up to 83 Snowcoaches a day, but up to 540 snowmobiles.

And as this statement from a group of retired National Park Service rangers attests, the proposed number of snowmobiles can indeed have a negative impact on the park:

What Magiver says is true. Snowmobile use inside the park is much different than the type of snowmobiling you may see elsewhere. The guides keeps the groups pretty close, they stop often, and the guides keep people from getting too close to the wildlife (except the Bison–they own the roads!).

Once we start to argue about pollution, noise & efficiency, what keeps us from banning motorcycles & RVs from the park? (not that I would be against that!)

I completely believe you. But in that case, as I said above, what’s the point of having individual snowmobiles at all? They’re noisier, less efficient, and more polluting than other vehicles. If the riders have to travel slowly, in groups, with a guide, stopping often, then just put them in a Snowcoach instead. Save the snowmobiles for their intended purpose of recreational fast riding in areas where their speed, noise, and emissions won’t be a disruption.

I could definitely see the point in banning particularly noisy or polluting or inefficient vehicles from the park in summertime too. One difference, though, which makes me hesitate on that score is that motorcycles and RVs are often the means by which the visitors who use them get to the park in the first place. If we banned them, then people who are traveling by motorcycle or RV just wouldn’t be able to visit the park at all.

But how many people actually travel to Yellowstone in a snowmobile? If you’re using another type of vehicle to get to the park in the first place, the above objection wouldn’t apply.

Personally, I could see an argument in favor of banning all private motorized vehicles at all times. Instead, visitors could park at the entrance and then take low-polluting, low-noise bus tours through the park itself, or else walk or take other non-motorized transport. Such a system probably isn’t currently practical (who would pay for all those buses and drivers?), but it would probably be the best way to combine access for visitors with minimizing the impacts on the park.

The enviro-weenies win again. Have any of these people been to Yellowstone? It is fucking huge. The elk and moose or even bear don’t give a shit because they know that they won’t be shot at.

Keep it up liberals

I don’t know if you consider retired National Park Service employees to be “enviro-weenies”, but you’ll see from the cite I gave a couple of posts ago that they provided some pretty cogent reasons in favor of banning snowmobiles:

But of course, what do ten million dollars’ worth of professional studies by the National Park Service matter in comparison with gravitycrash’s profound observations that Yellowstone is “fucking huge” and that the wildlife “don’t give a shit”? Good thing we’ve got you around to conclusively resolve these knotty issues for us, gravitycrash! :rolleyes:


A quote from the decision:

“According to NPS’s own data, the (plan) will increase air pollution, exceed the use levels recommended by NPS biologists to protect wildlife, and cause major adverse impacts to the natural soundscape in Yellowstone,” U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan said in an order Monday.
According to the National Park Service’s own research, it’s a harmful plan but they want to pursue it anyway.

So maybe it isn’t an elitist, treehugger thing but rather a refusal to kowtow to special interest groups thing.

Do you have any any cites/information that disproves the NPS research?

Mr. Frink:

Companies go under all the time. It happens everywhere.

For ex. in NYC, the construction of the 2nd Avenue subway is hurting/will hurt many small businesses.

Should a much needed subway be halted because businesses are going to suffer?

Should a park’s wildlife and scenery (the very thing that attracts people to it in the first place) be damaged to subsidize small business owners?

Maybe people just need better business plans.

I suppose that I should reveal my personal interest in this topic: for the past three winters, I’ve been a Snowcoach driver/Snowmobile guide in Yellowstone National Park. So I’ve seen up-close the effects that regulated snowmobiling has had on the park. I think the main concern should be a balance of environmental protection with the public’s right to visit. The bill creating Yellowstone, signed by President Grant, established it as being “for the benefit and enjoyment of the people”. When you cut off access to our park for 6 months of the year(!), how does the public benefit.

While the environmental concerns voiced by the group of ex-park rangers should be taken into concern, I can’t take it very seriously when they don’t address the effects of the vehicles entering the park in the summer. I would say that the three million summer visitors have a much greater impact on the environment than the daily average of 290 snowmobiles in the winter.

But even if we allow that snowmobiles are bad–then why ban snowcoaches??? (For those who aren’t familiar, snowcoachesare retrofitted vans equipped with treads instead of wheels) By including Snowcoaches in the ban, it seems that they are going a bit overboard. Snowcoaches allow the public an affordable way of seeing the beauty of Yellowstone in the winter with minimal environmental impact…

Yes, you’re correct. I mixed the numbers. 540 snowmobiles would be still be a considerable reduction in traffic in the park versus the summer months. This is an old debate so I’ve had the benefit of seeing it on television. The snowmobiles run in packs of 10 at slower speeds and are not the monsters they’re made out to be. As a source of disruption to the wildlife they wouldn’t be any more intimidating than a large van on tracks.

Yes, 540 snowmobiles would produce more pollution than540 cars but it’s a fraction of the traffic the park sees in what amounts to a tremendous amount of open space. It’s a huge park. The court’s logic that it would add to the pollution when winter months show a decline in traffic negates their position that they are protecting the park.

I still feel this is a tree-hugger attempt to impose their views on the rest of the populace. And that would be fine if they’d just come out and make the case that they want to commune with nature without any motor vehicles. It would be a simple matter to carve out a couple of bi-monthly tree-hugger days and adjust the snow mobile numbers accordingly.

But did you read my cite from a few posts ago that noted that studies had shown that thermal inversions in the winter worsen the effects on air quality, and that wildlife stick closer to the areas near roads in the wintertime? I mean, I don’t think that the people who conducted those studies failed to notice that the park is huge, and that the average impact of snowmobiles over its whole area would be, as you note, pretty insignificant. The trouble seems to be that the impacts are more concentrated in the areas most heavily used by people and wildlife in the winter months.

Well, apparently the National Park Service wanted to make sure they didn’t fall for any such attempt, which is why they conducted all those studies on snowmobile impacts. I’m not sure what you think the Court ought to have done when they looked at the conclusions of the studies. Should they just have said “Well, these conclusions agree with what the tree-huggers want, so we’ll have to reject them”?

That sounds like an idea worth considering, although personally I’d prefer more tree-hugger days and fewer snowmobile days, but the proportions could be adjusted to balance access against impacts as necessary.

I think my point still stands about the nature of the snowmobiles, though: they just aren’t a very sensible choice as a form of transport for traveling in groups, at slow speeds, with frequent stops, through a wilderness area. A van, as you point out, would be about as disruptive, would have the same capacity, and would be better in terms of pollution, efficiency, and noise.

I completely agree with this. I do think there has to be some balance between environmental preservation and allowing access, and the snowcoaches seem to be a perfect compromise. I would love to take a snowcoach tour of Yellowstone myself.

Yes, There is no denying a van would deliver people from point A to point B more efficiently. Not sure on the noise. It didn’t sound like a bunch of off road bikes in the video. In fairness they didn’t show the tractored vans as a comparison so I can’t say how much noiser they were.

I’m not buying the pollution stuff at all just out of common sense. the study’s conclusion statement in your cite was an all encompasing assessment of pollution, noise and habitat. By itself it would preclude the use of mini-vans as well. If, as you said, the trails were following favorite gathering sites for endangered moosalopes then part of the solution would be to move the trails. It’s not like they have to pave anything. Stick a couple of markers up for the guides to follow. I agree that they can adjust the days for tree-huggers to fit the need. However, if there are only 10 people who want to hike in then I can’t see it being a 50/50 split.

And to be clear, I’m not a huge fan of snowmobiles in Yellowstone but I recognize there are people who don’t follow my vision of park use. If it were legal I would carry a paintball gun on bike trails and pick off grannies who walk 4 abreast with grand children and dogs in tow. that’s my vision of bike trails.